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Free Life Posted on 8/16/2014 1:03:46 AM
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Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. I in no way claim ownership of any rights to the Harry Potter Universe.

Author's Note:

Chapter 12: I Solemnly Swear That We Are Up To Some Serious Pranking
Ron stared at his shoes and remained silent. Realization dawned on Harry. “You wanted to prove you could do it without me, didn’t you?” Ron’s head snapped up painfully. “You wanted to prove that you didn’t need the great Harry Potter, Boy-Who-Lived to win, didn’t you? You wanted to show everyone that you could lead the team to victory without me.”

Both girls gasped, and turned horrified eyes to Ron, hoping to find his innocence staring back at them. They were disappointed.

Ron’s silence convinced Harry of his guilt. Up until a few moments ago he never would have even suspected that Ron could stoop this low; even now he was having a hard time believing it. “Why?” he asked. “Why…just why?” The hurt in his voice was evident.

“I’m sorry,” Ron cried out. “I just…you’re one of the best seekers I’ve ever seen play. And you’ve been getting even better. Anybody could win with you around because chances are you’ll catch the snitch long before the other team has a chance to score 150 points.”

“And was it worth it?” Harry asked, feeling more betrayed by the second.

“No,” Ron immediately replied, his head down.

“Why not?” Harry inquired, not really sure if wanted the answer to that question.

Ron paused for a moment before responding. “A couple reasons. I didn’t stop to think about how it would affect you. And I’m sorry for that. And also, I had little to nothing to do with our win. Without Ginny, we would’ve lost anyway. It’s my fault we were in that position. If Ginny was in at chaser, we would have been in much better shape.”

Harry nodded. He felt that was an accurate representation of the situation. “So this brings us back to the present. You apologized thinking everything would be back to normal by tonight. You never really gave a thought to how kicking me off the team would affect me. And I can’t just forgive and forget that. But I am sick of arguing with you. And I’m sick of the strain it’s putting on all our friends. They’ve been forced to pick sides and deal with the tension between us all term, and I hate having to see that.”

Harry paused a moment. “A friendship has to work both ways, and there has to be trust there. And frankly, I don’t see how I can trust you right now.” Harry trailed off here. He had lost all his steam, and had nothing left to say.

There was a long period of uncomfortable silence as each boy contemplated everything that was said and the ramifications thereof. After a couple long minutes, Ron took a deep breath and looked at Harry. “So what does that mean? Where does that leave us?”

Harry ran a weary hand through his hair. Where did that leave them? He couldn’t trust Ron; that much was clear. And wasn’t friendship built on trust? But he didn’t want to just forget the last five years of friendship he had shared with him. Why did everything always have to be so complicated? He wished they could just put everything behind them and forget any of this happened, but he knew that wasn’t a possibility.

They couldn’t go back, so that only left moving forward. But the question of where they were and where they were going was still unanswered. And Harry didn’t even know how to begin to answer. “I don’t know, Ron. All I know is I don’t want to fight with you any more. We’ll obviously still be seeing a lot of each other, and I don’t want to be at odds with you or for things to be tense or awkward.”

Ron nodded but didn’t speak. Harry sighed. He opened his mouth but then shut it again, unsure of what else to say. He felt Ginny’s hands squeeze his upper arms in comfort and turned to give her a grateful smile.

**********************

Shortly after the tentative truce was formed between Ron and Harry, Ginny tugged on Harry’s sleeve and asked, “Do you want to get out of here for a bit?”

“Yes,” Harry immediately agreed. “I’m really not in the mood to celebrate right now.”

“I hear you,” Ginny agreed. She led him by the arm to the portrait hole. He pushed the door open and waved her through before following after.

“So where to?” he asked her as soon as the portrait shut, drowning out most of the noise from the party.

Ginny thought about it for a moment. “Well, you said the house elves provided us with all that food. We could drop by the kitchen to say thanks,” she suggested.

“Sounds good to me,” Harry said. “I think they’d appreciate that, though I’m sure they won’t expect it.”

Ginny laughed. “I think you’re right about that.”

The two walked down the corridors in companionable silence as they made their way to the kitchens. Harry tickled the pear and again allowed Ginny into the entryway before him. Of course, even the human shield in front of him wasn’t a deterrent for an excitable Dobby, who nearly bowled Harry over as he latched onto Harry’s knees.

“Harry Potter sir has come to visit Dobby!” the elf squeaked excitedly. A thought seemed to strike him, for his demeanor changed in an instant. “Is there a problem with Harry Potter sir’s party? Oh, bad Dobby. Did we’s not makes enough foods for Harry Potter sir’s friends?” Dobby questioned worriedly.

“No, no, it’s nothing like that,” Harry hastily assured him. “We actually stopped by to say thank you. We really appreciate you and the rest of the elves preparing all that food for us.”

“You and your Miss Wheezy wants to thank Dobby?” the elf asked wondrously.

“Yes, Dobby,” Ginny answered softly. “We want to thank you and all the elves. You really outdid yourselves. The food was great.”

“Harry Potter sir is truly the greatest wizard in the world,” Dobby exclaimed. “And his Miss Wheezy is the greatest witch.”

The two teens chuckled. “Thank you, Dobby. You know, you’re always good for an ego boost,” Harry joked. Ginny laughed out loud.

Dobby didn’t seem to get the joke, but he was happy all the same. Harry and Ginny left soon after that. Once they were out in the hall, he turned to her and asked, “So where to now?”

“I don’t know,” Ginny mused aloud. “I really don’t want to head back to the Common Room.”

“Me neither,” Harry inserted; he paused for a moment and then offered, “We could hang out in my office, if you’d like.”

“That sounds great,” Ginny agreed with a smile.

A short walk later and they had arrived. Ginny immediately plopped down on one side of the sofa. She was surprised, though pleased, when Harry sank into the cushion next to her rather than taking one of the unoccupied armchairs. Of course, being a guy, Harry had to spread his legs wide open, leaving his left leg brushing against her right. He also had his arm along the sofa behind her. She made no move to pull away, however. They were barely touching, and she found she liked the physical contact. After the hectic day she had had, it helped settle her. She wondered if Harry could possibly feel the same way.

As she settled into the sofa, Ginny’s mind drifted over everything that had happened in that day. And what a day it was! So much had happened in such a short amount of time, she had trouble just processing it all, let alone making sense of any of it. It all started off with the Quidditch match.

She snuggled closer to the warm body beside her as her thoughts drifted to the events at the end of the match. Ginny had really begun to worry that she wouldn’t catch the snitch in time. The game had been quickly spiraling out of their control. The team needed her to catch it; she needed to catch it for Harry. When she finally did catch it, she was ecstatic. She had raised her arms in triumph, shouting in happiness. She’d only been hanging onto her broom with her legs when something ploughed into her from behind. She shivered as she remembered the pain of the hit and how scared she’d been as she fell to the earth; her screams of fear during her fall still echoed in her mind..

Harry must have felt her shiver because he dropped his arm from behind her and gave her shoulder a slight squeeze. When she turned to look at him, he offered her a small smile. This stopped her train of thought, but only for a moment. Soon enough her mind wondered back to her fall.

When Harry’s spell hit her, Ginny’s screams of fear had faded as she’d realized she was no longer falling. She remembered opening her eyes shocked to find that she was moving towards the stands. As she’d approached the stands she’d realized that everyone else was as surprised as she was. Everyone but one person, she amended herself, as Harry, wand outstretched, was rushing out to meet her.

Words couldn’t even begin to describe the feelings this sight invoked in her. When she finally reached the stands, she had thrown her arms around Harry and held on for dear life. She didn’t ever want to let go. She was alive. She was safe. She was with Harry. He had held on just as tightly for a little while. He made sure she was all right and then worked on cheering her up, congratulating her on the catch. But he let her hold onto him for as long as she needed.

The real test, though she hadn’t meant for it to be, came when she realized that his broom had probably not fared as well from the fall as she. When she’d brought it up, he refused to even spare it a second thought. All he cared about in that moment was her, and Ginny couldn’t help but smile and feel bolstered at the thought.

She sighed as she remembered the brief respite she’d received in the changing rooms after that. Her teammates had shared their congratulations and worries and had a couple questions right away, but that died down relatively quickly giving her a moment of peace. The moment did not last long as she was swept away with the rest of the team back up to Gryffindor Tower where their entire house had descended upon them, clapping, cheering, giving congratulations, and asking a hundred questions.

At that moment there was only one person she wanted to see, and he was the one person who didn’t seem to be vying for her attention. Try as she might to find him, she couldn’t get away from the crowd of students around her. She did eventually find him, allowing her to thank him for what he’d done.

A little later on, one of the odder things in a day full of oddities occurred. Harry gave her a backrub. Almost equally interesting was the conversation going on during the backrub. Harry had been talking about his two dates: The Disaster, as he called it, with Cho, and the nice one with Jessica. The latter would require some further thought. He assured her that there was only friendship there, but Ginny was not entirely convinced.

But that wasn’t important to her just now. What intrigued her was that backrub. She was more than a little amazed that he’d offered. And then before she’d known it she’d found herself in what could be considered a fairly intimate position, sitting before him, nestled between his legs, and receiving a backrub from him.

She had never before received a backrub like that. Sure her mum had rubbed her back at times while comforting her or when she wasn’t feeling well, but that was entirely different. She was incredibly nervous at first, not knowing what to expect. There were very few guys she was comfortable enough with to allow them to touch her like that, and Harry was the only one whose last name wasn’t Weasley.

That backrub had stirred up more emotions than she was comfortable with. Whether she liked it or not, there was history there, in her case anyway. For a long time she’d fancied herself in love with the boy. But she was well past that, and Harry was her best friend.. She trusted Harry more than she trusted anyone else. There really wasn’t any reason for her to be uncomfortable, so she’d swallowed her discomfort and let herself calm down.

Once he’d gotten the hang of it, he’d turned out to be really good. She really had been interested in the story of his two dates, but as his hands had continued to knead the muscles on her back and shoulders, she’d found herself having difficulties following his words. At first it had just been her muscles relaxing. His hands had felt so good; she’d felt all her worries and troubles fading away.

But then it had gone beyond that. She’d stopped worrying so much about her fall or about any of the chaos of the day. She was with Harry now, and she’d never felt so safe. Ever since her experience with the Diary her first year, she had lost a lot of faith in people’s abilities to protect her. She learned that her mum and dad couldn’t always protect her. She learned that even someone as powerful as Dumbledore couldn’t always protect her.

While Harry hadn’t been able to stop her from succumbing to the effects of the Diary, that hadn’t stopped him from rushing to her rescue and battling a giant basilisk to save her. When Death Eaters had attacked in Diagon Alley over the summer, it wasn’t Bill or her mum that managed to save her, but Harry. At the Quidditch match, there were hundreds of other people who could have saved her, but it was Harry who had done it. It was Harry who had stopped her descent and brought her to safety. Not the mighty Albus Dumbledore or any of the other professors. It was always Harry. He was the only one who made her feel safe.

She had become so relaxed during the massage that she hadn’t really been conscious of what she was saying. It wasn’t until she saw a look of surprise cross Harry’s face that her words caught up to her. She had told him that she loved him. She was surprised at herself, but not upset. She knew it was true. She did love Harry. She wasn’t sure how much or the exact nature of her feelings, but she could say without a doubt in her mind that she loved him.

At that thought she glanced over at her silent companion, he’d had a rough couple of weeks, and today hadn’t been a picnic for him either. She reached up across her body and grabbed his hand in hers to pull his arm down around her shoulders. She tucked their clasped hands close to her body and thought back to the trauma of their day.

Ron’s admission about his motives for keeping Harry off the team was certainly traumatic enough, though that whole confrontation had been pretty horrible. It started with Ron, the dense inconsiderate prat that he was, having to be practically forced by Hermione to apologize to Harry. Harry’s reaction to the apology and his subsequent monologue had surprised even her, and she had spoken to Harry about all the things he’d brought up, several times in fact. But frankly, she rather thought the git deserved everything he’d got and worse. She still couldn’t believe that Ron had kept Harry off the team just so he could prove that he could win without him.

She sighed inwardly. It had been a very long day, but it was nice to be able to just sit there with Harry without anything to do or worry about. They weren’t talking, but just being there with him was exactly what she needed after her day.

*****************

The next day at lunch, Harry was sitting with Ginny and her friends. They were teasing him about his shoe size again when they noticed Luna drifting by at the same time Neville wandered over to the table, so they invited both to sit with them encouraged each to invite their dates for the ball so that they could all discuss the seating arrangements.

Soon the six of them were all sitting together at Gryffindor’s table eating lunch and talking. Harry recognized Luna’s date from his BHA classes, Alex Smith, a Hufflepuff fifth year. If he remembered correctly, Alex was especially good with shield charms. After all agreed that they would sit together, Ginny asked the group, “So does anyone have another couple in mind that they want to sit with us?”

Hannah chimed in affirmatively. She wanted to invite Ernie MacMillan and his date. Alex immediately seconded the request, explaining that Ernie was his cousin. Harry found Ernie to be a bit pompous at times, but he was a pretty decent bloke. “That’s fine by me,” he declared, looking around at Luna, Neville, and Ginny to make sure they all agreed.

“All right, so that leaves us with eight seats occupied then. Does anybody know how many seats there are per table?” Ginny asked as Harry moved to take a bite of his sandwich. Harry had barely gotten a bite in when he was interrupted.

“Harry James Potter!” Hermione scolded. “What are you lot on about?”

Harry looked over at her in confusion and a bit of frustration. What was she harping about now? Couldn’t she just let him eat in peace? He swallowed his bite and asked, “What’s that?”

“Don’t play coy with me,” Hermione admonished. “Why aren’t Ron and I being included in your seating arrangements for the ball?”

”Yeah!” Ron exclaimed from beside her. “What’s the big idea?”

Hermione turned and gave him a look that quite distinctly said, “You’re not helping.” She then turned back to Harry and asked, “So why haven’t you saved seats for us at the table?”

Harry glanced at the rest of his friends, noticing how incredibly uncomfortable they all looked, except for Luna whose demeanor was as dreamy as ever. Hannah and Alex, who didn’t know them all very well, looked especially nervous and uneasy with the conversation. Harry wished Hermione had shown a little more tact than to bring this up in front of everyone. “I wasn’t aware that I was supposed to,” Harry replied calmly, though his body was tensed up in irritation.

“We’re your best friends,” she replied as if stating a fact. “Why wouldn’t you want to sit with us?”

“Oh you are, are you?” Harry retorted hotly, though careful to keep his voice under control so as not to attract unwanted attention.

Hermione nodded pointedly. “You even said it yourself we were the closest you have to a family.”

“The last time I checked, not all brothers and sisters turn out to be best friends. It just so happens that my best friend is sitting on the bench beside me.” Harry retorted, his face softening for a brief moment as he gave Ginny a cursory glance. “Some siblings don’t even get along with each other at times. Why don’t you go ask Ron how he feels about Percy and let me get back to my lunch?"

“But Percy turned his back on his family,” Hermione input. Harry just stared pointedly at her. “We have not turned our backs on you!” she declared shrilly.

“Oh no?” Harry asked. “I could have sworn my “best friend and brother” there recently kicked me off the Quidditch team for no good reason, and….”

“Just because you’re upset with Ron right now,” Hermione interrupted, “doesn’t mean you should….”

“Ron is not the only person I’m upset with, thank you very much,” Harry butted in. “You seem to think you’re innocent in all of this. You’re not. You knew Ron was wrong for what he did, but you stuck by him regardless, comforting him. It’s good to know I can always count on you to stick up for me, sis. And that’s not even the half of it. You have absolutely no trust in me. For the past several months you’ve been on a bloody crusade to save me from depression. News flash, Hermione: I’m not depressed. But will you listen to me when I tell you I’m fine? No, of course not, because you don’t trust me to be able to take care of myself. I think I’ll stick to my friends who actually show me a modicum of respect. Now would you please let me eat my lunch in peace? I have a class that I need to prepare for, and I’d rather not have to teach on an empty stomach.”

Harry turned away from Hermione and began eating his sandwich again. After a moment of silence Hannah put in, “There are still two seats open at the table. I heard Professor McGonagall say there were ten per table. You and Ron can have them, if you’d like.”

“Thank you Hannah,” Hermione replied with as much dignity as she could muster. She and Ron then sat further down the table to eat their lunches. Ginny tried her best to lighten up the mood and start a conversation after they left, but with only minimal success. The rest of the meal was spent mostly in uncomfortable silence.

Harry and Ginny met later that night for her training. They normally met on Saturdays, but with the Quidditch match and the party afterwards, in addition to all the drama, they never got around to it the day before. The first thing they did after arriving in his office was hang his Firebolt up on the wall. Harry cast a reparo charm to fix the crack in it so that it would look as good as new. Afterwards they discussed the letter Harry had received that morning from the Weasley twins. They sent him their monthly report which included a response to the letter he had written them the previous month.

They couldn’t say enough about the ideas that Harry had given them, though they were careful not to include any specifics for fear of the letter falling into the wrong hands. Apparently they were taking the concept and running with it. They refused his offer of money to help fund the project, saying they were making more than enough at the joke shop to pay for it, and judging by the monthly report he received, Harry couldn’t disagree. They really were raking in the galleons. The twins were absolute geniuses, and Harry was interested to see what they would come up with when they put their creative talent to work in the war effort. There really wasn’t much to discuss just yet, since the idea was just getting under way, but the twins seemed confident that they could make the items Harry mentioned in addition to a few others they were already brainstorming.

After storing the letter in his desk, he turned to Ginny. “So what do you want to do about Malfoy?” She only cocked an eyebrow in response, so Harry continued. “I can’t imagine you’ll just let him get away with knocking you off your broom. I figured you’d want some revenge, and I want in on it.”

“You know that map you have?” she asked. “Do you think it would be possible to make a copy of it? Just the layout of the castle, I mean,” she quickly amended. “I think it’s time this castle became a little less friendly for Draco Malfoy.”

She listed some ideas that she had, causing an evil smirk to work its way across Harry’s lips. When they had been scheming against Ron earlier in the year, he had shot down some of her nastier suggestions because he was her brother and his friend. Malfoy, on the other hand, was neither her brother nor his friend, and Harry was less inclined to keep things tame. Ginny felt the same way. It looked like Malfoy was about to have a very bad term.

Her basic idea was to make the castle a completely unpredictable place for Malfoy. They would set up a slew of pranks throughout the castle that were set to activate only under specific circumstances. One could be placed on a single step of a staircase and only go off every fifth time Malfoy stepped on it. Another could be triggered only on certain days of the week, that type of thing. She basically wanted to make it so that Malfoy never knew when, why, or how he would be hit.

Once they planned out what they were going to do, a thought struck Harry. He had actually wondered about it during the party but never got a chance to bring it up with Ginny. Now that he had her alone, he took the opportunity. “Ginny, I was wondering…” he trailed off.

“Yes? What is it Harry?” she inquired curiously.

“Well yesterday, when you were talking with your friends, I’ve never seen you like that,” he explained uneasily and rather unhelpfully.

“What do you mean?” she asked, frowning slightly.

“I don’t know. You were all giggly and excited about the latest dress robes and hairstyles. I just never knew you were really into that stuff,” he told her.

“All girls are into that kind of stuff to some extent. Even Hermione is at times,” she answered him, wondering where he was going with this.

“Oh. I’ve never seen you like that before, or heard you talk that way…” he trailed off for a moment again wondering if he should say this next thing. Shrugging to himself, he continued. “Did you really mean what you said about yourself?”

“What I said?” she parroted back in confusion.

“About your body…and how it would never look good in certain clothes,” Harry explained uneasily, hoping he wouldn’t have to go into further detail. Ginny’s brow furrowed as she tried to think of what she had said the day earlier. Harry was silently praying she would to avoid having to explain things any further. Sadly, his prayers went unanswered.

“What did I say, exactly?” she asked him.

Harry blushed lightly, though he tried to temper it down. “Err – that you, uh, don’t have the right…figure for them.” She continued to look at him perplexedly. Harry opened his mouth to say more but found it to be suddenly quite dry. He began gesturing with his hands unconsciously, and they said what his mouth was unable to.

“My breasts?” she asked him, and if he didn’t know better he’d swear there was some amusement in her voice.

Harry blushed a deep red as he nodded. He was unable to look her in the eyes.

“They’re not big enough to fill out some of the newer styles of dress robes,” Ginny explained a little too easily for Harry’s liking. How could she talk about something like this so casually? “They’re nowhere near as big as girls’ like Lavender’s or Claire’s or Melissa’s,” she said critically.

“I think they’re perfect,” Harry replied genuinely as he looked up and met her eyes. A second later his face lit up and his gaze reverted to the floor as his brain caught up with what he had said. He missed Ginny’s bright smile and light blush.

“Thank you, Harry. I appreciate that,” she said sincerely.

“Right…” Harry said uneasily. “Err – shall we move onto your training?” he asked in hopes to change the subject.

Ginny had come a long way since her first animagus lesson. Technically they hadn’t really even been working on the animagus transformation, but they were working on wandless magic. Ginny was gaining more and more control over her magic as time passed by. She was now able to control the simpler spells like the hover charm with relative ease, so long as the object she was hovering was lightweight.

Where her control had once been choppy at best, it was now smooth. The movements were no longer jerky as they had once been, and her confidence was gaining rapidly. At first she continually bugged Harry about when she’d be able to try a partial transformation again, but after a couple weeks of being continually shot down, she had left it up to Harry’s discretion. Seeing her confidence soaring as it was, Harry decided that now was the time to put her skills to the test.

“I want you to try turning your hand into a paw again,” Harry informed her after they had settled down.

She turned surprised eyes to him. “Really? Do you think I’m ready for that?”

Harry smiled widely at her and nodded. “Yes, I think you are. Just remember not to get too discouraged if you don’t get it right away. I have every confidence that you will get it with just a bit of practice.”

Her eyes twinkled in happiness as her smile stretched across her face. “Oh, I cannot wait. This is so exciting,” she cried, hugging Harry around his neck energetically.

Twenty minutes later, they were both staring at her left hand, which had yet to change in any way. “I just don’t get it. Why isn’t this working? I don’t feel anything,” Ginny roared in frustration. The likeness to that of a lion was comical, given the form she was trying to change into. But Harry knew that now was not the time to laugh.

Harry let her stomp around for a moment before speaking up. “Take a couple deep breaths and relax. Getting upset about it is not going to help matters.” He waited patiently as she glared at him for a long moment before heeding his advice. When her face began to soften up, he spoke again. “Now talk to me. Tell me what you’re doing.”

“I’m not doing anything. I’m trying to change my hand into a paw, but it’s not working,” she shouted at him.

“And yelling isn’t going to help any,” Harry calmly retorted.

“I’m sorry,” she said after a long moment. “I just wish I could do this. I want to be an animagus so badly.”

“You can do it,” Harry attempted to comfort her. “It’s just going to take a little time and effort. Like I said, I have every confidence that you will get this with a little bit of work. Now tell me what you’re doing, really doing. How are you trying to make the change?”

Ginny took another deep breath before explaining herself. “Well I’m calling forth my magic, I guess you’d say.” She gave him a quizzical look, and he nodded for her to go on. “And I’m trying to get it like it feels when I’m doing transfigurations, like you said, since that’s what the animagus transformation is based off of.”

“Right, that’s good, but you have to make sure you leave some room for flexibility. It’s similar, but it’s not exactly the same. That’s the closest thing I can point you to in how the magic feels, but it is fundamentally different from regular transfiguration. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because you’re doing the magic to yourself? Or perhaps it’s just unique to the transformation, since it’s not a regular transfiguration. The animal is a part of you, so it’s different than turning a mouse into a cat, because the two aren’t related at all,” Harry attempted an explanation. The truth was, he didn’t really know what he was talking about. He was just speculating. But he did know that the magic felt different than it did for regular transfiguration, and that’s all the mattered at the moment.

“Ok,” she replied somewhat glumly. “So how do I manage that if I don’t know what it feels like?”

Harry shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I wish I’d paid more attention when I was learning. But I learned the transformation around the same time I discovered my wandless abilities, so I didn’t have much experience to judge by at the time.”

Ginny sighed. “I wish you could just show me what it feels like. It would make life so much easier.” She slumped down into one of his armchairs and stared into the roaring fire glumly.

Harry looked sharply at her. “Maybe I can,” he said more to himself than to her. “I wonder…” Harry thought back to when he was learning to become an animagus. He had taken the potion to reveal his forms when he was beginning to understand how to feel the magic within you. During the visions, he was able to feel the magic of the two animals, making it easy to copy once he tried to transform. He wished he had thought of that before giving Ginny the potion. Had he taught her to feel the magic first, she would probably find the process much easier. But if he could show her what his magic feels like during the transformation that would probably be enough.

“What was that?” she asked him, craning her neck towards where he sat on the edge of his desk.

“I was just wondering if maybe I could just show you. Maybe I could get the magic feeling the way it should, then will it to pour into you. If we were holding hands, say, maybe I’d be able to will the magic into your hand,” Harry mused aloud.

“Do you think that will work?” she asked as she began to grow excited again.

“It couldn’t hurt to try, right?” he asked her. “I don’t want you to get your hopes up though. I’ve never tried this type of thing before. I have no idea whether or not it will work.”

“Well let’s give it a shot,” she exclaimed, beaming at him as she rose from her chair.

“Alright,” he said, also rising onto his feet. “Um, here, give me your hand.”

She stepped forward and clasped her left hand to his right. Ginny gazed into Harry’s face expectantly waiting for him to do whatever it was he needed to do.

“Okay, here goes nothing,” he said. After a short moment he continued, “Alright, I have my magic the way it should be. I’m making it run down my arm and into my hand, and now I’m going to will it into yours. Okay?”

“Mmhmm,” she immediately replied, having difficulties standing still. “Oh,” she said, almost jerking her hand away from him in surprise. “I can feel it,” she said in awe after a moment. “It is different, but also the same. You’re right, that would be hard to explain.”

“See?” he wheedled. “I was thinking of my panther form when I did it, so it should hopefully be really close to what your lion should feel like.” He studied her as she took all of this in, still holding her hand in his.

“Lioness,” she corrected him with a playful grin.

“Forgive me. How I could make such a grievous mistake I shall never know,” Harry recited, bowing slightly to her.

“Prat.” She whacked him on the arm for good measure, releasing his hand in the process.

“You wound me, woman,” Harry cried out, clutching his arm as if a basilisk fang had just penetrated it. He relented when she raised her arm again in warning. “So are you ready to give it another shot?”

“Show me what it should feel like one more time. You distracted me, and now I’ve lost it,” she told him sternly.

“My apologies,” he intoned solemnly, once again offering his hand to her.

He repeated the process, and soon she was ready to try changing her hand into a paw again. Her first try yielded interesting results. “You’re a hairy beast,” Harry exclaimed, taking her arm in his hand to examine the results.

Golden fur had sprouted all over her hand, and her nails had lengthened a bit, but other than that, it was still a hand. But it was a step in the right direction. “Gimme that,” she said, snatching her hand back from him. After a moment it changed back into her hand. “Well at least I got that part right,” she said with a laugh. “I’d hate to have to walk around with a hairy hand all day. And those nails looked lethal.”

Harry chuckled along with her. She made an awfully good point though. He wasn’t sure that he’d be able to help her change back if things did go badly. She continued to work on transforming her hand to a paw and back for the next half hour or so. By the end of that time, she was able to make the transformation consistently. She looked as though she was walking on air, she was so happy. Harry couldn’t help but feel quite pleased himself.

**************

While Harry and Ginny were working in Harry’s office, Hermione was sitting in an overstuffed armchair by the fire in the Gryffindor Common Room. In a rare moment of distractedness, her book lay forgotten in her lap as her mind wondered off to other things. She stared into the flickering flames as she pondered over the boy she considered to be one of her best friends, Harry Potter. That was apparently an important distinction to make since he no longer considered her to be one of his best friends.

She thought over everything that had happened at lunch today. When she had first overheard Harry making plans for the seating arrangements, she was initially upset that he hadn’t seen fit to consult her to see if she or Ron minded whomever he was inviting to sit with them. When it became clear that she and Ron weren’t even being factored into the equation, she had seen red. She could not believe Harry would do something like that.

So she yelled at him. Perhaps it wasn’t the wisest course of action, especially given how tense and upset he must have been for the past couple weeks. Ron really did have the emotional range of a teaspoon, but that was beside the point. Harry had gotten upset and had responded in kind, which escalated the whole thing out of hand. She really shouldn’t have let herself lose control of the situation the way she had. She would have to be more careful in the future.

Harry was obviously still upset with Ron over the Quidditch team, and he was directing some of that anger onto her since she had spent most of her time with Ron during their estrangement. She could see his reasoning there. She had known Ron was wrong for what he did – she had even told him so – but Harry wouldn’t know that. He must have assumed that she had taken Ron’s side in the matter. But she really just tried to stay out of it altogether. She told Ron how she felt about his decision, then let the matter drop figuring the two of them would eventually work it out on their own. She had tried fixing things between them in the past, but they tended just to need time to settle down and get over their anger. At least Ron did, anyway. Harry was generally just happy to have things back to normal and would just forget anything was wrong.

She really couldn’t understand what was going on with Harry. She had expected some resistance, of course, but she didn’t think even he was this stubborn. All term long he had been avoiding her questions, insisting he was fine. He also had a tendency to disappear for long periods of time, and no one ever seemed to know where he was. He would tell them he was in his office studying, but she found the explanation to be a bit fishy.

She had a feeling that Harry was using his private office to practice new spells, ones they hadn’t yet covered in class. Harry was often the first or one of the first to master a spell in all of his classes. She shared classes with him for the past five years, and she had never known him to pick up spells so quickly. It was obvious that something wasn’t quite right there, and that was the best explanation she could come up with.

The only person who might be able to shed some light on Harry was Ginny, and the girl had proven unwilling to help in the past. She was buying Harry’s façade, and if Hermione wasn’t mistaken, Ginny was falling for Harry, again. On the other hand Harry was clinging to Ginny like a lifeline, to avoid all that was troubling him. And Ginny was welcoming him with open arms. Hermione feared how that would end.

She would really love to see Harry and Ginny get together. She thought they were well suited for one another, but with everything going on right now, she feared that they would ruin any shot they might have by getting together now. When Harry finally broke down, he was likely to lash out at those closest to him. Ginny would bear the brunt of that now, and Hermione didn’t think she was prepared to handle that. Instead, it could very well destroy whatever had been built between them and leave Harry feeling more empty and alone than ever before. And she didn’t imagine Ginny would take it well either.

She knew that something had to be done, but what? It was obvious that what she was doing with Harry now just wasn’t working. And it was becoming abundantly clear to her that she could not do this alone. She turned away from the fire to look at Ron, sitting in the chair across from hers. He was staring out into the Common Room, the book in his lap not even opened. Typical. If she was going to actually get to Harry, she was going to need all the help she could get. Ron was probably her best place to start.

“What are we going to do about Harry?” she asked him.

His head swiveled toward her. “Whassat?”

“What are we going to do about Harry?” Hermione repeated slowly as if talking to a small child.

He looked at her dumbly for a moment before asking, “What do you mean?”

Hermione huffed in annoyance. “Harry is drifting apart from us. He’s not talking to us. He’s hiding things and not talking about any of his problems. He’s gong to break down eventually if we don’t do something. I can’t help him on my own. I’ve been trying all term. We need to work together in this.”

“I dunno,” Ron replied thickly as he arched his right arm behind his head and rubbed at the back of his neck. “I don’t think we should push him. He’s mad enough at me right now, and I’d rather not do anything to make that worse.”

“But this is so much bigger than that,” Hermione insisted.

“Harry didn’t seem too happy with you either. He said something about you not listening to him and letting things go. I think this is one of those times he’s talking about,” Ron replied carefully.

“But we’re his family, Ron,” Hermione pleaded desperately. “If we don’t help him, who will? He might not like us for it right now, he probably doesn’t even realize how much he needs our help, but he’ll thank us in the long run. He needs us Ron. We can’t give up on him now.”

Ron still looked doubtful. “I think we should leave him be.”

“Ugh,” Hermione growled in frustration. “Fine, be that way.” She stuffed her face back in her book and ignored Ron. She still wasn’t really reading, however. Her thoughts were now focused on what it would take to get Ron to help her. She thought he would be easier to convince, but he was obviously weary of making Harry any angrier at him. Not that she could blame him with how badly he had hurt Harry. She let out a long sigh from behind the cover of the book. This was all turning out much more difficult than she had thought.

But she refused to give up. Harry had said that he saw her as a sister, and she knew that Harry wouldn’t say that kind of thing lightly. Harry hardly ever let on how he was feeling about anything. She felt the same way about Harry. He was the brother she never had, and she was not about to fail him.

**************

Later that night, Harry lay in bed thinking about the day. He thought about his training session with Ginny. He had learned something new and potentially huge in that lesson. He managed to make her feel his magic so that she would know what she needed to do in order to manage the transformation. It opened up a potential world of opportunities. Maybe he could teach Ginny other wandless spells through that method. If Ginny wanted to continue to build up her wandless abilities, this would probably help a lot.

It wouldn’t allow him to just transfer everything he knew right away. She would still need to practice with it as was evident by the initial problems Ginny was still having in turning her hand into a paw. But it would certainly speed things up quite a bit. He pondered over the possibilities. He wondered if physical contact was needed or if the caster had to will the magic into the other person for them to feel it. Could he perhaps feel the magic of a spell being cast by someone in the same room as him even if he had no contact with that person and the spell wasn’t even aimed at him? He had no idea, but he was sure as hell going to find out.

His thoughts soon turned to the upcoming ball. Harry thought that everything was going perfectly except one thing: the dancing. He didn’t know how to dance. He had only danced for one song in his fourth year, and Parvati had led him because he had no idea what he was doing. That one dancing experience was enough to last him a lifetime. But here he was again, only this time was a little different. He had gone with Parvati because he needed somebody to go with as a Triwizard Tournament Champion. He was sure she knew that, at least now if not at the time.

But this ball was different. He had asked Ginny to go with him right off the bat because he wanted to go with her. And she would most likely want to dance for a good portion of the evening. Harry was determined to make the night enjoyable for Ginny, which meant that he’d have to put up with the dancing with good grace. But he also remembered the last Yule Ball, which Ginny had attended with Neville. Poor Neville was such a horrid dancer that Harry wouldn’t have been surprised if Ginny’s toes were bleeding by the end of the night. Harry did not want Ginny to have to go through that again.

He had to dance with Ginny, and he wanted her to enjoy the experience. That really only left him with one option. Harry would have to learn how to dance. The only real question was how he was going to learn. He would need someone to teach him, a girl preferably. Names began flying through his head. He could go to Hermione with this, of course. He knew she would be willing to help him, but something held him back.

Going to Hermione for dancing lessons would require spending a lot of time alone and in private with her. It wasn’t that Harry was nervous being around Hermione or anything. Things were still rocky with her, however, and he feared that she would use the opportunity to bombard him with questions and to try to get him to talk about Sirius and his feelings and all that other garbage she was convinced that he needed to talk through. He was also a little embarrassed about the fact that he needed dancing lessons, and the more he thought about it, the more he wanted the whole thing to be a surprise, to Ginny especially but to everyone else as well.

Even still, Harry probably would have gone to Hermione if not for the problems they had been having. But with Hermione out of the way, Harry didn’t know whom else he could go to for help. He started going through all the girls he knew well enough to ask. Ginny was easy to dismiss since she would be his date to the ball. He could go to Parvati since she obviously knew how to dance, but he still felt bad about the way he had treated her at the last ball, and it would be awkward to ask for her help. He wasn’t very close with her to begin with.

The next female student he was closest to was Luna. But Harry didn’t think asking her for dancing lessons would be a great idea. For one thing, he didn’t even know whether or not she could dance. But Luna was just too abnormal to ask for that kind of help. Even if she could dance, she never did make much sense to Harry. He wasn’t sure that he’d be able to learn anything from her.

He knew Tonks well enough, he supposed. But she wasn’t at Hogwarts, which would make arrangements difficult to make. Though he was sure he could talk to a certain werewolf friend of his if he needed. But Tonks was a klutz. She couldn’t walk into a room without bumping into something, so she was definitely not an ideal dancing partner in Harry’s opinion.

Mrs. Weasley was another candidate, but he would again run into the problem of actually finding a time and place to meet with her for them. Plus it would be somewhat embarrassing for Harry to go to her with this kind of help, especially since Ginny was the one he was learning to dance for. So Harry quickly vetoed her as well.

Professor McGonagall might be able to help him, Harry mused. She was in Hogwarts, which would make the arrangements manageable. He had seen her dancing at the last ball, and she seemed to get on pretty well. He would most likely be able to get lessons from her in private, which would keep it a surprise. She was a busy woman, though, and he didn’t want to impose on her. But maybe he could make an arrangement of some sort with her. He could help her by grading essays for her lower year classes, much as he did in DADA with Professor Caldwell.

Harry was beginning to think that she might be his best bet. The only problem left was working out how to ask her. Professor McGonagall had been very kind to him lately, praising him in class. She had commended him highly when she had attended his HA classes, and she had even invited him to call her Minerva in private, which still unnerved Harry a little bit. But asking her to teach him how to dance would be embarrassing. Still, she was the best candidate he could think of, and he couldn’t teach himself. It was either Professor McGonagall or Hermione. And he feared that exposing himself to Hermione in private that much would only further damage their relationship. He wasn’t willing to risk that.

With that decided Harry was finally able to drift off to sleep. As had been custom over the past several months, Sirius was there waiting for him. The previous night Harry had told him about several of the events that took place on Saturday, including Ginny’s near fall and his fallout with Ron. He conveniently forgot to mention the backrub he had given Ginny and the time he had spent with her in his office at the end of the night.

He’d told Sirius his worries about his friendship with Ron and his uncertainty with where things would go from there. The only real betrayal among his best friends that Sirius had experienced had resulted in the death of Harry’s prison and Sirius’s false imprisonment for a dozen years. So he didn’t have any particularly wise words on how to deal with the situation, but it was still nice to have someone to talk to about it who wasn’t really involved.

Given the conversation they had shared the previous evening, it was only natural that he wasted little time before asking, “So how were things with Ron today?”

“A little awkward, but not so bad I guess,” Harry replied gruffly.

“That’s good, right?” Sirius asked him confusedly.

“Yeah, but Hermione was being a pain again today,” he explained with a shrug. “We got into a bit of an argument over the seating arrangements for the ball because she just assumed I’d be saving the two of them seats at the table. They hadn’t even told me they were going together yet. For all they knew, I had no idea. Then she tried to act like I was betraying her and Ron, and made some snide remark about how that’s no way to treat one’s family.”

“Ouch,” Sirius remarked sympathetically.

“Yeah. I never should have told her I thought of her like a sister,” Harry replied. Sirius just looked at him pointedly. Harry sighed. “Okay, maybe I don’t mean that, but it just makes me mad that she’d throw something like that in my face.”

“I know, Harry. You could always prank her to get even,” he suggested with a wicked grin.

Harry smirked. “Actually, my pranking time seems like it will be all filled up for a while.” At Sirius’s eager expression Harry proceeded to inform him what he and Ginny had discussed about their plans for Malfoy. As he explained Ginny’s idea, a predatory grin formed on his godfather’s face.

“Didn’t I tell you, Harry? There’s the spirit of the Marauder’s in that one!” he exclaimed.

Harry rolled his eyes and began telling him about the map he was going to make when a thought struck him. “Do you think it would be possible to recreate the Marauder’s Map, but with a little extra functionality?” he asked his godfather.

Sirius frowned slightly in thought. “What did you have in mind?”

Harry explained to him his idea. And a grin spread across Sirius’s face. “That would be absolutely perfect for what Ginny has in mind,” he proclaimed. “I’m not sure how to go about getting that new stuff to work, but I can certainly point you to where we did our research for the original map.”

“So do you think it’s possible then?” Harry asked him.

Sirius shrugged. “No idea, but even if it is, when has that ever stopped you, eh?” he said with a large grin as he gave Harry a nudge with his elbow.

Harry grinned back ruefully.

“Seriously, Harry. If anyone can make it happen, you can. You’ve done nothing but continually amaze me since June. I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it happen.”

Sirius spent the rest of the night talking about what they had done to create the original Marauder’s Map and listing some starting points for Harry’s research.

Transfiguration was first thing the next morning, and Harry entered the classroom with a little trepidation. He planned to stay after class to ask her about dancing lessons, and he also planned to butter her up by paying close attention and excelling in the day’s lesson. Harry sat towards the front of the room with his friends and waited patiently for Professor McGonagall to begin class.

Right at the ring of the bell, McGonagall rose from her seat and began the lesson. “Good morning class. Today we will be working on human transfiguration, as you should all already know from your assigned readings for today’s lesson.” She swept the classroom with her stern glare telling better than words what she would do to anybody who didn’t do the reading.

“Human transfiguration is not so different from other mammal transfigurations, just a little more complex because our bodies and minds are more complex than any animal’s,” she continued. “Today you will be working with a partner and attempting to change their hand into the paw of a cat. You will not attempt to change any other part of your partner’s body in any way unless I explicitly ask you to do so. Human transfiguration can be extremely dangerous, and I will not tolerate any horseplay during this lesson. Is that understood?”

She once again swept the class with her strict gaze before continuing. “There is one major difference when doing a full transfiguration from human to animal compared to animal to animal. Can anyone tell me what that is?”

Harry raised his hand in the air. He was surprised to find that he was the only one. Not even Hermione had raised her hand. “Yes, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall called.

“When you transfigure animal to animal or object to animal, you want to change the mind of the animal as well. Otherwise, if you change a mouse into a bird without changing its mind, it’s not going to know how to act as a bird. And it might even go into shock as a result. When changing a human to animal, you need to keep the human mind intact, lest you possibly damage the mind of your target. And a human target will find it easier to cope with the transfiguration because we at least know what’s happening.”

“Very good, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall praised. “Ten points to Gryffindor.” When Harry turned, he noticed Hermione giving him a suspicious look that he wasn’t quite sure how to take. His attention was focused back to the front of the room when McGonagall continued. “The incantation for the spell is homo inflectus. May I have a volunteer so I can demonstrate the spell with the proper wand movements?”

Harry’s hand shot right back up into the air. “I’ll do it, Professor,” he said cheerfully.

She gave him a rare, brief smile. “Wonderful. Thank you, Mr. Potter. I often have much difficulty finding a volunteer for this particular exercise. Most people don’t like the idea of being transfigured into something else. I’ll demonstrate by changing your hand into a paw first and then complete the transformation by turning you into a cat. Is that alright with you?”

“Yes,” Harry replied simply with a slight nod.

“Excellent,” the normally stern professor responded. “Now I want all of you to watch me carefully, and that includes you, Mr. Potter,” she said, turning to Harry. Harry smiled and nodded his understanding. “The wand movement is a diagonal slash down and across your body, then across, and back diagonally and up, followed by a slight jab.” She did the movements as she explained them to the class. “Now pay close attention. Ready Mr. Potter?”

Harry nodded his head again and said, “Yes, Professor.”

Professor McGonagall began the wand movement as she loudly and clearly intoned, “Homo inflectus.” The last syllable was spoken as she jabbed her wand at Harry’s outstretched arm.

Harry watched as his hand sprouted fur and changed shape into a cat’s paw. The process wasn’t foreign to him since he had changed his hand into a paw numerous times when he was training to be an animagus. He extended and retracted his claws once, then turned to the professor with a grin.

“Does your hand hurt in any way, Mr. Potter?” McGonagall asked him.

Harry looked at her quizzically. “No. Is it supposed to?”

“No, no, of course not,” Professor McGonagall quickly replied. “I merely wanted you to answer for the benefit of the class, so they’d know not to fear the transformation.”

“Oh,” Harry replied, nodding his head. “That makes sense then. No, it doesn’t hurt at all. It does feel a little weird where it changes from my regular arm to the cat’s paw. It’s not uncomfortable or anything like that, just odd.” He addressed this to the students who were all paying avid attention.

“Thank you, Mr. Potter,” Professor McGonagall told him. “Now if you are ready and still willing, I’d like to turn you into a full cat.”

“I’m ready whenever you are,” Harry replied cheerfully.

McGonagall performed the spell yet again, and Harry disappeared from view. Standing where he had been just moments before was a small black cat. The cat meowed from the ground and moved its limbs experimentally. It felt similar to being a panther but also different. The basic mechanics were the same, though, so he only felt a little awkward as he began to walk forward.

“Mr. Potter, would it be all right if I picked you up and placed you on my desk so that the class could see you more easily,” McGonagall asked the cat on the ground.

Harry looked up at her, meowed, then turned and leapt onto her desk on his own. He turned back and gave her a cat’s version of a cheeky grin. “Very good, Mr. Potter. Now, normally a person transfigured into an animal would have much difficulty moving around at first because the entire body and muscle structure is completely different. Mr. Potter, here, appears to be a quick learner in that regard. A feat such as jumping up onto the desk would not be easily performed by the average wizard who had been turned into a cat for the first time.”

Professor McGonagall turned back to Harry. “If you would jump back down to the ground, I will change you back to normal.” Once Harry complied, McGonagall spoke up again. “Now pay attention everyone, and you too, Mr. Potter,” she added looking pointedly at the cat sitting at her feet. “The incantation for reversing this spell is reverto homo, and the wand movement is a slight downward curve across your body like this and a flick.” She performed the appropriate movements as she explained them.

“Now then,” she said, turning back to Harry. “Ready?” Harry meowed in response, nodding his head slightly. “Reverto homo.” Harry reappeared moments later with a large grin on his face.

“That was fun,” he exclaimed.

McGonagall gave him an appeasing smile then turned to the class. “As you can see, Mr. Potter has suffered no ill effects from the transformation. Now everybody partner up and take turns attempting to turn your partner’s hand into a paw. And if I see anybody trying to change anything besides a hand or into anything but a paw, the consequences will be most severe.”

Harry turned to his friends. Hermione immediately asked, “How did you know the answer to her question?”

“I don’t know,” he replied with a shrug. “I read it somewhere.”

“But that’s not in the text book,” she insisted.

“I read more than text books,” Harry explained impatiently. “You guys go ahead and partner up,” he said motioning to Ron and Hermione. “I think I’ll work with Neville today.”

He faintly caught Hermione huffing her displeasure but ignored her as he grabbed Neville. “Hey Neville, want to partner up with me?”

Neville turned to Harry with surprised eyes. “Sure,” he said.

“Great,” Harry replied. “So do you want to go first, or should I?”

“You go ahead,” Neville immediately said. “I’m no good in Transfiguration. I don’t know why you’d want to partner with me. I’ll probably turn your hand into something awful.”

“That’s not true, Neville,” Harry told him honestly, laying a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You’ve been doing a lot better this year, haven’t you? I’ll bet it was just your dad’s wand that was holding you back before. The wand chooses the wizard, they say. Now that you’ve got a wand suited to you, you’ve been doing great.”

Neville smiled at Harry but still seemed unsure of himself. “All right,” Harry said. “I’ll give it a go then, shall I?” Neville nodded nervously but dutifully held out his hand for Harry to practice on. Harry grinned at his friend and reassured him, “Don’t worry mate, it really doesn’t hurt at all. Ready?”

“Yeah,” the boy replied tentatively.

When Harry raised his wand to begin the spell, Neville shut his eyes tightly, unable to watch. Harry slashed and jabbed with his wand as he intoned, “Homo inflectus.” As was usual for Harry, he felt the rush of magic running through his veins. He quickly poured his magic into the spell and willed it out of his wand, all the while concentrating on turning Neville’s hand into a cat’s paw. Harry watched in fascination as brown fur sprouted on what was Neville’s hand but was quickly becoming a cat’s paw. “See, mate. That didn’t hurt, did it?”

Neville opened his eyes at Harry’s question and glanced down at his new appendage. He let out an audible gasp as he held up his paw for closer scrutiny. He marveled at it for a long moment, turning his arm around so he could see it from every angle before finally proclaiming it “Wicked!”

Harry smiled at Neville. The shy boy was long gone, but Neville was still slow to come out of his shell. He was becoming more openly friendly and outgoing among friends as the days passed by. Harry couldn’t have imagined Neville making such a declaration in the middle of class the previous year, but he was glad to see the change.

“How did you do that?” Hermione demanded, walking over to their table.

“Huh?” Harry asked thickly.

“How did you get the spell so quickly?” Hermione repeated forcefully.

“I just did what Professor McGonagall told us to do,” Harry casually replied. “I just got lucky to get it so quick is all,” trying to play it off. He really didn’t want to get into it with her, especially today when he was trying to butter up Professor McGonagall.

“Hmph.” Hermione did not look impressed with his answer.

“What’s all the fuss about?” Professor McGonagall asked as she strode toward them. She made a small correction to Ron’s wand movement as she passed him by on her way to Harry and Neville. “Now what have we here?” Neville held up his paw for her inspection, and she let out a gasp. “Excellent work. Full marks, and twenty points to Gryffindor. How many tries was it before you managed it?”

Neville spoke up before Harry had a chance to answer. “This was his first try,” the boy said shooting a smirk at Harry, whose cheeks tinged a slight shade of pink.

“Really?” she asked, turning from Neville to Harry. He heard Hermione groan in the background but didn’t have time to pay her any attention. Harry shrugged at Professor McGonagall in response, a little uncomfortable with her enthusiasm. “Incredible. Have you tried changing it back into his hand yet?”

Harry shook his head. “No, we hadn’t gotten that far yet.”

“Well carry on then. Let’s see you give the spell a try,” she instructed.

Harry dutifully lifted his wand as Neville held out his paw. Harry took a deep breath, and then cast the spell. “Reverto homo,” he called out. As he flicked his wand, the brown fur began to disappear, and soon Neville’s hand was as it should be once again.

“Excellent work, Mr. Potter,” Professor McGonagall praised him. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone master this spell so quickly. I’ll let you two get back to practicing. I want you to continue practicing the spell as well, Mr. Potter. You need to make sure you can consistently perform the spell correctly.” Seeing Harry’s nod she continued. “Carry on then.” She walked back to her desk and left the boys to their work.

Hermione looked like she wanted to continue her interrogation, but she was interrupted by Professor McGonagall. “Back to work Miss Granger. This is an incredibly difficult spell and will require the entire class and then some for most to get it right.” She stomped away without another word.

The rest of the class flew by quickly. Harry helped Neville with the spell as well as he could, and by the end of the class, Neville was able to make Harry’s hand grow plenty of black fur, but he hadn’t managed to completely turn it into a paw yet. The only other student in the class who did manage the full change was Hermione. Several others had managed hands full of fur, like Neville. And a few others were struggling even more with the spell.

As she called for the end of class she turned towards Harry and said, “Mr. Potter, I’d like you to remain after class for a moment.”

“Sure thing, Professor,” Harry replied with a secret smile. He needed to talk with her after class anyway, and she just gave him an excuse to hang around while everybody else left. Harry packed up his things and waved to his friends as they all left the classroom wishing him luck. Once the last of the students had left, Harry approached her desk. “You wanted to see me, Professor?” he asked her.

“It’s Minerva when we’re in private,” she chided good-naturedly. “Have a seat.”

Harry smirked and sat down on top of the desk directly in front of hers. “Minerva, then. What did you want to talk to me about?”

“When I changed you into a cat, how did it feel to move around?” she asked suddenly.

Harry furrowed his brow in confusion, wondering where this was going. “I don’t know. It was a little awkward at first, but I think I got the hang of it pretty quickly,” he replied carefully.

“Yes, that’s what it looked like to me as well,” she said absently while lost in thought.

“I have a question about that, actually,” Harry spoke up. She turned her attention to him and nodded for him to continue. “What’s the difference between an animagus transformation and transfiguring yourself or someone else into an animal?”

“A very good question,” she replied, “and part of the reason I asked you to remain after class,” she added mysteriously. “First of all, the animagus transformation is done internally, without the use of a wand. If it required a wand, then nobody would be able to change back once they’d turned themselves into their animal. Secondly, the animagus has all the knowledge and instincts that the animal should have. The wizard is always in control of the animal, but you feel natural in the animal’s body. You don’t need to think about your movements, and your body will react instinctually much as your human body does in certain situations.”

“That is not true for human transfiguration. The fact that you were able to move around as easily as you were while you were a cat suggests that you may have the animagus form of some kind of feline or something similar,” she told him with a warm smile.

“Really?” Harry asked in surprise. He wasn’t at all surprised at the declaration itself, more about the fact that she had made that deduction. He wasn’t prepared to let his animagus forms into the public domain just yet.

“Of course,” she replied easily. “It not very common for a wizard or witch to even have an animagus form, and it is even rarer for them to ever complete the transformation. But I think you have the potential to accomplish it. Your performance in class today only reinforces the idea. It took me several tries to get the spell right when I was first learning it, and Transfiguration was always my best subject, as you no doubt have guessed. Even Miss Granger struggled with it for the majority of the day. It is not an easy spell to use, yet you seemed to have no issues with it. I think with the proper training that you could achieve the transformation, if you are willing to put forward the effort.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Harry asked, not sure what else to say. What could he say? It sounded as if she was going to offer to help train him to become an animagus, and he couldn’t just refuse her. That would look too suspicious, not to mention ungrateful. The only way he could really see to get out of it was to confess and show her the panther, but he wasn’t ready to let that particular secret out yet.

“I can see this is quite a surprise to you,” she said warmly. “If you continue to show promise, I would like you to consider entering into the training. I would be more than happy to help guide you through the process. I don’t think we would start until either the end of next term or the start of the fall term next year. I want to make sure you have a full grasp of human transfiguration before you even start the training.”

Harry breathed a silent sigh of relief. At least he wouldn’t have to deal with that problem today. “I don’t know what to say. Thank you, Prof – Minerva. I appreciate it.” And he really did. It was a very generous offer, after all.

“You’re welcome, Harry,” she kindly replied. “I will bring up the subject with you again next term if you continue to show the potential. But I don’t want you getting your hopes up. It is very likely that you do in fact have the form of a feline, but it is not a surety.”

“That would be great,” Harry immediately responded.

“Now, if you didn’t have anything else…” she began to say, when Harry interrupted.

“Actually, I had another question. Or a favor to ask would be more accurate, I guess,” Harry said carefully.

“Oh?” she curiously inquired.

“Well, as you know the ball is coming up. After the disaster that the last ball turned out to be, I’ve been determined to make this one better. I asked my preferred date right away. Ron and Hermione are going together, so they hopefully won’t be blowing up at each other like last time. That takes care of two of the three biggest problems that plagued me two years ago,” Harry explained.

“And what was the third thing,” she prodded with interest.

“I don’t know how to dance,” Harry told her embarrassedly. His face flushed slightly, but he quickly squashed the emotion and fought to keep the blush down. He met with mild success.

“And what does that have to do with me?” she asked him.

“I was wondering if you might be willing to teach me,” he said hopefully.

She looked at him for a long moment, shocked at his request. Never in all of her years teaching had a student ever asked for a favor like that. She imagined that her stern countenance would frighten most away from ever asking, not that most students would have asked her anyway. “You want me to teach you to dance?” she asked him somewhat incredulously.

“I don’t want to impose on you,” Harry quickly added. “I’d be willing to make a trade of some sort. I’ve been grading essays for Professor Caldwell on occasion this year, and I thought maybe I could grade some of your lower year essays in exchange for lessons.” Harry stood up and shifted his weight on his feet uneasily.

“You’ve really thought this through then, haven’t you?” she inquired.

“Yes,” he said quite simply.

She thought it over for a long moment. It was an odd request but not completely inappropriate. Now that she thought about it, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to offer dancing lessons to the student body at large in future years if they continued to host these balls. She glanced at Harry and realized that he was waiting on her answer. She knew that Harry had put himself out on a limb just by asking for her help. She knew that it was not often that he actively sought out anybody’s help with anything, especially from an adult. And she was warmed by that thought. “That seems like more than a fair trade to me,” she finally told him.

“Really?” Harry asked. “Brilliant!” He pumped his fist in the air once for effect. “I want to keep this secret from everybody. It’s not that I don’t want them to know I’m taking lessons from you,” he quickly added. “I just want to be able to surprise everybody at the ball.”

She smirked at him, and they quickly set up a schedule that would have them meeting two times a week for an hour each time. Harry thanked her profusely the whole time, and soon enough they were beginning their first lesson. Mondays directly after their lesson worked for both of them, and it was convenient since they would already be together. Professor McGonagall moved the desks against the walls of the room with a flick of her wand to clear a spot for them to practice.

She disappeared into her office for a minute but reappeared shortly thereafter with a Wizard Wireless in hand. She set it on her desk and flicked her wand at it. A song began playing that Harry didn’t recognize at all. He watched as his professor seemed to consider something for a moment before nodding her head and muttering, “That will do.”

She strode over to Harry and began her instructions. She grabbed his arm and placed it at her hip as she placed her own hand on his shoulder. She clasped his free hand in her own informing him that this was the position for a traditional dance. She gently guided him through the movements, both of them staring down at their feet as they moved in time with the movement. Harry was doing his best not to step on his professor’s toes, and Minerva was watching Harry’s feet and making corrections when needed.

Their time together ended quickly, and they made plans to meet every Monday and Friday right before lunch, which happened to be directly after class on Mondays. Harry headed down to the Great Hall for lunch. His friends, of course, wanted to hear all about what his meeting with McGonagall was about. “So what did Professor McGonagall have to say?” Hermione asked him directly.

“She just wanted to talk about how well I seemed to catch on to human transfiguration,” Harry explained as he loaded food onto his plate. “We also talked about my HA classes,” he added as an afterthought.

“How did you manage to get the spell so quickly?” Hermione immediately interrogated. “I mean, it is a rather difficult spell. I don’t see how you could just get it on your first try.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Harry replied as he stuck a forkful of steak and kidney pie into his mouth. “Just got lucky I guess.”

Hermione huffed.

“What’s the big deal, Hermione?” Neville asked. “He really did get it on his first try. I should know since I’m the one he was casting the spell on. He even helped me with the spell. I almost had it right, too.”

“You’ll get it, mate,” Harry encouraged him. “You were right there. I bet you’ll have it next class, no problem.”

“You’re assuming that’s the first time he ever tried to cast the spell,” Hermione snapped irritably.

Neville’s eyes bulged at her tone, but to his credit he didn’t back down. Instead, he turned to Harry and asked, “Was that the first time you ever cast the spell?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, it was,” he said simply.

“Well there you go,” Neville continued, turning back to Hermione. “He did get it on the first try.”

Oddly enough, that didn’t seem to placate Hermione. “Rubbish. That’s impossible. I bet even Professor McGonagall herself didn’t manage the spell on her first try. It’s incredibly complex. And Harry’s never shown that much aptitude for Transfiguration before.”

“That’s not true,” Neville interrupted. “He’s been one of the first to get every spell all term long.”

Harry was looking back and forth between the two as they continued arguing about him as though he wasn’t there. He was grateful for Neville’s involvement, as he was really getting sick and tired of defending himself to Hermione. He noticed that Ron’s eyes traveling back and forth between the two as well, though Harry couldn’t say for sure whom he was rooting for.

“Which means that today’s just one of many oddities that Harry has to answer for,” Hermione concluded.

“Excuse me?” Harry demanded while Neville asked, “And why should Harry have to answer for anything?”

Hermione chose not to answer; instead she just let out a groan of frustration as she rose from her seat at the bench and stormed out of the Great Hall. Ron slowly rose from his seat. He looked at Harry, then Neville, and back to Harry again. He looked like he wanted to say something but didn’t know what. Instead he just shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and followed after Hermione.

Neville turned to Harry. “What’s gotten into her?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t really know,” Harry replied. And it was true. He really didn’t know why she was making such a big deal out of the fact that he had gotten a spell right on the first try. He knew that she always wanted to be the best and the first to get every spell, but he really didn’t think she’d take that this far. There must be something else; if only he had any clue what.

“Thanks for sticking up for me, mate,” he said to Neville after a long moment.

“Don’t mention it,” Neville replied easily. “That’s what friends are for.”

The week passed by in relative normalcy after that, though things were strained between Harry and both Ron and Hermione. There were no more arguments like the one during lunch on Monday, however. Harry spent a lot of time pouring over the Marauder’s Map and researching in the library.

He had met Ginny a couple of times in the library to research some spells for the map and to go over what they would need to know for the pranks. They decided that it would be best if Harry did all the spell casting wandlessly to ensure that nothing could be traced back to them. Therefore, while Ginny was doing most of the research for all of the spells to be used in the pranks, she would show him what she found and take a few notes down to help him remember.

They sat at a table side by side as they each poured over their respective texts. Every so often Ginny would ask him what he was researching, but he wouldn’t budge. He just told her that he had an idea that would be an enormous help to their…project. This only seemed to increase her excitement and encourage her to badger him even more, but he held firm knowing that the surprise would be worth it.

Thursday evening rolled around, and with it Harry’s weekly Occlumency lesson with Professor Dumbledore.

**************

Albus Dumbledore was a man who was not often surprised. After over 150 years of life, he had seen much more than most and often knew what to expect in any situation. He liked to think of himself as wise thanks to his many years of life experience, but he also liked to think that he hadn’t yet lost his youthful vitality. It wasn’t often he got a chance to duel, but he could move as quickly as those less than half his age when the situation called for it.

There was one boy who often did surprise him, however. This boy had experienced more in his short life than many adults, and yet he continued to persevere. It seemed like every year carried a new surprise from this extraordinary boy. The latest surprise had occurred just last weekend. Young Ginevra Weasley had been knocked off her broom, and the boy had beaten him to her rescue. Not only that, but in the past even he had been unable to handle identical situations as effectively as this boy had.

Albus considered himself to be one of the quickest draws currently alive. Not many could get a spell off before him. Apparently Harry Potter was one of those precious few. Not only had Harry beaten him to the punch, but he had managed to stop Miss Weasley’s descent entirely without causing her any harm, an impressive feat by any means and one that he had been pondering ever since. Perhaps tonight he would finally get his answers.

In his quest to get answers he had gone so far as to look at his memory of the event in his pensieve numerous times, but Harry was so far away that it was impossible to see him clearly. That far away and the image the memory created was fuzzy at best. Without his memory to aid him, he had little choice but to go to the source. Perhaps Harry could shed some light on how he had managed it. And he was coming up the stairs now.

“Come in, Harry,” he called as the boy approached the door. He watched as Harry opened the door and strode into the room. He immediately made his way directly to Fawkes’s perch, as was his habit.

“Hello Fawkes, Professor Dumbledore,” the boy greeted as he stroked Fawkes.

“Good evening, Harry,” he replied genially. “How are you doing this evening?”

“Pretty good, thanks. And yourself?”

“Marvelous,” Dumbledore responded as Harry made his way to the armchair in front of his desk.

“That was an interesting match last Saturday,” he commented offhandedly as he studied the boy for any reaction.

“It certainly was,” Harry replied unwaveringly. Nothing in his demeanor suggested that he was feeling any strong emotions with regards to the topic of conversation. Considering the circumstances surrounding the match that was quite surprising.

“Miss Weasley appears to make a more than adequate replacement for you,” he continued on conversationally.

This earned him a grin from the boy. “You’re not kidding! I’m just lucky she prefers to play chaser.”

“Indeed,” the Headmaster replied in open amusement. “Yet it was not her catch that drew the most attention that day,” he steered, hoping to find out more about Harry’s big catch.

“I suppose not,” Harry agreed. His voice and demeanor revealed nothing about his emotions but his eyes flashed something for a moment. It disappeared so quickly that he was unable to decipher what it was.

“Tell me,” he continued, “How is it that you were able to catch Miss Weasley?”

“Honestly?” Harry answered. “It wasn’t really a conscious decision. I noticed Malfoy just before he hit her, and I just knew what he was planning to do. So I reacted. I carry my wand in an arm holster at all times, so it was just a flick of the wrist and I was casting the spell before my brain even caught up with my body,” Harry explained with a shrug.

The Headmaster remained silent for a brief moment as he thought over the boy’s answer. It made sense, but something about the explanation didn’t sit entirely right with him. Not that the boy was necessarily lying, but that something was missing from the explanation, whether intentionally so or not. He almost asked if he could see Harry’s memory of it, but decided he didn’t want it to appear like he didn’t trust the boy. “I had wondered at that. Your reaction was so quick that there was little explanation except that you had seen it coming a moment beforehand. Needless to say you acted with remarkable speed and excellent spellwork. I think 25 points to Gryffindor are in order,” he said warmly.

“Thank you, sir,” Harry replied just as kindly.

“Well then, shall we move onto your lesson for the day?” he asked.

******************

The lesson went by well. Harry was finding that it took less effort to hold off the Headmaster’s attacks each lesson. He was confident that he would soon be able to hold off his attacks completely without ever cracking. If he hadn’t been a master Legilimens, Dumbledore would already find it impossible to break into Harry’s mind.

After the end of the lesson, he wondered at Dumbledore’s line of questions about how he’d caught Ginny. He hadn’t thought about a cover story beforehand, but he felt the one he had fed to Dumbledore was believable and most like what the Headmaster would already have been thinking. Yet he couldn’t help the niggle of doubt that crept up in his mind. Dumbledore had looked like he wanted to ask him something else, but had talked himself out of it. Harry decided that there was no use dwelling on it, as he couldn’t change what had happened.

Harry met with Professor McGonagall for dance lessons again the next day. The lesson progressed much like the previous one. They were still going over the basic steps, watching Harry’s feet to make sure he was getting the steps right. She took him through the steps of several dances. They covered several of the traditional dances such as the waltz and the foxtrot, among others.

Harry spent the majority of Friday evening in his office trying to finish his map project. He had studied the Marauder’s Map extensively that week, using his newfound knowledge of magic to feel the magic built into the map. This, coupled with his talks with Sirius, allowed him to figure out the basics of what was used to put the map together. A little research and adaptation later, and Harry found himself building a new and improved map. He couldn’t wait to show it to Ginny. They were supposed to meet the next morning to move ahead with their plans.

As was their custom, they met in Harry’s office to get organized before heading out into the castle at large.

“So did you make me a map?” Ginny asked him the minute the door had closed behind her.

Harry smirked, looking at her in amusement.

“What’re you smiling at?” she asked him. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were up to something.”

“You might say that,” Harry replied. “After hearing about what you had planned, I had an idea,” Harry explained.

“Well, what was your idea?” Ginny immediately asked.

“Well you said you wanted a map so that you could easily keep track of what pranks you set up and where,” Harry responded. Ginny nodded impatiently. “Well I thought I would take that one step further. With some of the ideas you told me, there would be more to keep track of than just where you put all the spells. If you want his robes to fade and tear every third time he walks on the fifth step down of some staircase, wouldn’t it be helpful to not only know where the prank was laid but also how many times he’s stepped on that particular stair?”

Ginny nodded eagerly. “That would be useful,” she commented.

“I thought so too,” Harry agreed. “I was thinking about last Monday and how I helped you feel the magic of the animagus transformation, and I had wondered if that same concept could be used elsewhere. So I took the Marauder’s Map and studied it. I tried feeling the magic that was put into it to make it work, and it worked; I could really feel it. It was a little jumbled up because there was so much spellwork involved, but I eventually managed to piece everything together. I did a little bit of research to help me out, and I was able to make another Marauder’s Map with some additional features.”

“That’s amazing, Harry,” Ginny gushed. “That has to be some incredibly advanced magic.”

Harry shrugged, though he was proud of himself for accomplishing it.

“What else can your map do, then?” Ginny eagerly asked.

“Well, it has two modes, each unlocked with a different phrase. The first mode is identical to the Marauder’s Map now. It shows you where everyone in the castle is. The second mode is for keeping track of pranks. It can show you who the prank is meant for, if specified, give a brief description of what the prank does, and of course shows you where it is on the map. It will also keep track of any extraneous details of the prank, like the number of times a step has been stepped on in the earlier example.”

Ginny’s jaw dropped. “You did all that?”

He nodded.

Ginny just stared at him for a long moment, making Harry increasingly uncomfortable, until she spoke again. “How does it work?”

Harry walked over to the side of his desk and lifted a large framed picture of the Gryffindor Common room onto the desktop. In the foreground you could see Ron setting up his chess board and sneaking glances at Hermione who had her books spread around her, while Harry and Ginny were sitting on one of the sofas talking to Neville. It was a great snapshot of life in Gryffindor Tower, which was one of the reasons that Harry had chosen it from the many that Colin had shown him. Harry gestured her towards the picture saying, “Tap your wand against it and say, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

When she did just that, nothing happened. She turned a confused look to Harry. “Good, at least that part works,” he replied. “I used what I had learned about wards to add an extra security feature. Only someone I have specifically keyed to the map will be able to use it. Here, I’ll add you in,” he said stepping beside her. He held his right hand over the picture stating, “I, Harry James Potter, solemnly swear that Ginevra Molly Weasley is up to no good.”

The picture glowed blue, and Harry handed it back to her. “Give it another shot.”

She did just that and watched in awe as the picture faded away and Hogwarts castle materialized before her eyes. Her eyes immediately sought out her own name and Harry’s, which she found to be in Harry’s office. Ron and Hermione were in the Common Room. Neville was outside in one of the greenhouses with Hannah Abbott. She couldn’t help but smirk when she saw the two of them together. She cast her gaze up to meet Harry’s eyes. “This is brilliant.”

“You haven’t seen its second function yet,” Harry told her. “Tap it with your wand again and say, “I solemnly swear that I am up to some serious pranking.”

She did just that. After a moment she turned back to Harry. “I don’t see anything different.”

“Look at the door to my office,” Harry suggested amusedly.

She did. It read: “Black hair charm. Ginevra Weasley. Triggered every: 1 time(s). Count: 1.” Her wide eyes immediately shot back up to meet Harry’s. “What?”

While she was looking at the map, Harry had conjured a mirror, which he now handed to her. Her chin fell to the ground. Staring back at her was a freckled girl with her face, her eyes, but definitely not her hair. Gone were her fiery red locks. In its place was a head of pure black hair. “Surprise,” Harry called out cheerfully.

“Harry James Potter,” she yelled. After a moment’s pause she continued on in a much calmer voice. “I don’t know whether I should slap you or kiss you.”

“You like it then?” he asked hesitantly.

“Like it?” she asked incredulously. “Are you kidding? This is bloody brilliant. I love it!”

“Good,” Harry responded contentedly.

“As for my hair,” Ginny continued in a harsher voice. “This charm better be off in about five seconds unless you want bat-bogeys flying around your face for the next five minutes.”

Harry grinned. “As you wish,” he said with a wave of his hand. When she looked back into the mirror, her red hair was back in all its glory. “I like it much better that way, anyway,” Harry remarked.

“Well good,” Ginny responded, “because I think I’ll keep it this color, thank you very much. Now if you’re finished playing tricks on me…” She paused to look at Harry, who nodded amusedly. “Shall we get started?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Harry replied.

The two of them set out into the halls of Hogwarts determined to make sure that Malfoy would rue the day he tried to hurt Ginny. At least he would if he ever figured out why all these terrible things were happening to him. They spent the majority of the day laughing as they pictured Malfoy’s reaction to all the pranks they were setting up.

The next day, Harry had his IHA practicing dueling in a situation where you are outnumbered. He wasn’t about to stick them in a situation where they were ten on one, but he did have them practice holding their own, surviving, when outnumbered two or three to one. He didn’t expect all of them to be able to come out on top of a duel in that type of situation, but if they were prepared, they might just be able to hold out until help arrived. That was his hope anyway.

Harry’s dancing lessons continued on Monday. Professor McGonagall taught him another new dance step at the beginning of the lesson. As they spent the rest of the lesson reviewing the basics, she had Harry working on managing the steps while concentrating on his partner, rather than his feet.

“You need to be able to hold a conversation while you are dancing,” she explained to him. “If you spend the entire evening concentrating on your feet, you may end up dancing well enough, but your date will be incredibly bored with nobody to talk to.”

“Okay,” Harry allowed.

“And it is important that you make eye contact while you are dancing. You cannot stare at your feet the entire time,” she continued as they danced around the room. “You don’t have to stare at your partner the entire time, but it’s important that you pay extra attention to her. You can let your eyes wander to other couples, but don’t stare.”

“Alright,” Harry articulated while concentrating both on what she was saying and on the dance.

“So tell me, Harry, how are your HA classes going?” she asked him after a moment.

“Erm, they’re going pretty well I guess,” he replied distractedly.

“Come on, Harry. You can give me more than that. You need to learn to dance without concentrating on it. By the time I’m done with you, you should be able to have a full conversation in the middle of a dance. And now is the time to start practicing,” she instructed with a little of her usual stern countenance shining through.

The change in his strict Head of House in these lessons had been a real revelation to Harry. They had met a couple times privately earlier in the term, and she had been much more relaxed in those meetings, but to see her on a regular basis outside of the classroom setting was a world of difference. She actually let her hair down from the tight bun that she had always worn. She smiled regularly, and her tone of voice was completely different from what it normally was around the student body.

She was very patient and kind with him. She didn’t get mad on the rare occasion that Harry missed a step and ended up on her toes. Harry was just grateful that those occasions were few and far between though, as he didn’t want to test her patience in that regard. But when it did happen, she took it in stride and dismissed Harry’s repeated apologies. It was only on a rare occasion that Harry glimpsed the woman he normally saw in the classroom.

“The classes are going well,” Harry said uneasily, his concentration torn between his steps and his words. “There hasn’t been much arguing between houses or anything lately. I don’t think that’s because they’re getting along now. I think it’s more that they understand that I will punish them for it if they even try.”

“Yes, I must say you did handle the one situation I witnessed rather well,” McGonagall commented. “Mr. Weasley seemed to be of the mind that he’d be able to get away with such a thing. I think you disavowed him of that thought rather nicely, if a bit confrontationally.”

“Ron can be a bit thick at times, and he has a hot temper if you let him get going. But he also gets embarrassed rather easily. The best way to get him to stop what he was doing was to draw attention to him in a bad way. He won’t be as quick to do something like that again if he thinks he’ll get embarrassed for it as a result. He was angry with me for a couple days after that incident, but he got over it eventually,” Harry explained. He loosened up as he continued his explanation. He wasn’t as stiff in his movements, and he was no longer staring mostly at his feet.

“I’d say that’s a fair assessment of your friend, though rather negative. Did you feel bad for confronting Mr. Weasley?” she asked him.

“Surprisingly, I didn’t feel too bad about it,” Harry remarked. “I mean, he was the one who was trying to take advantage of me by picking on others during my class and thinking he could get away with it. He put me in a bad situation. If anything I should say he should be the one to feel bad about forcing me into that situation in the first place.” Harry was no longer even bothering to glance at his toes; he was so involved in their conversation.

“That’s a rather mature way of looking at – Oww!” she exclaimed as Harry stomped on her toes.

“Oh, I’m so sorry Professor,” Harry hurriedly apologized, immediately backing out of their hold.

“Nonsense, Harry,” she told him as she kept a firm grip on his shoulder and hand. “You’re doing well. We were talking for several minutes, and you were dancing perfectly. A small slipup every once in awhile is nothing to get worked up about. If it happens during the ball, you need to learn to handle things more gracefully. Apologize to your partner and make sure she is all right, then continue dancing. You do not want to make it into a scene, understood?” she asked as she urged him with her hands and feet to begin dancing again.

“Yes, Professor,” Harry replied as he began dancing again, his eyes flitting between his feet and his dance partner.

“You know it’s Minerva when we’re in private,” she corrected him warmly.

Harry looked up and smiled at her. “It’s still so weird to call you that.”

“You said Remus Lupin asked you to call him by his first name, did you not?” she inquired.

“Yeah, and even that took me a little while to get used to, but he’s not my professor any more. And I don’t have to switch between Professor and Remus all the time. And besides, he was one of my father’s best friends, just like Sirius. It just seems more natural for our relationship to be less formal,” Harry attempted to explain.

“I understand,” she told him. “Your father and his friends had difficulty making the transition after they graduated and joined the Order. They were older than you at the time, and I was younger. You’ll get used to it in time.”

“I’ll take your word on that,” Harry said with a smile.

With that out of the way, she steered the conversation back to Ron. “Have you and Mr. Weasley worked out your differences?”

“Somewhat,” Harry replied. “We got everything out in the open, but things won’t just go back to normal. Not after everything he’s done.”

“I can’t say I’m surprised to hear you say that. I was rather shocked when I learned that you had been removed from the team. I talked to Mr. Weasley about it, and he claimed that you had refused to show up to practice. I thought the claim was suspect, but as you had not brought the matter to me to be disputed, there was little I could do.”

“I probably should have brought it to your attention,” Harry mused aloud. “I didn’t think of that honestly. The team is Ron’s, so I just decided to accept his decision.”

“Mr. Weasley is the team’s captain because you turned down my offer and suggested him,” McGonagall corrected. “The team belongs to all of Gryffindor House, not just Mr. Weasley. It is his responsibility to do what is best for the team on behalf of the house, and it has become apparent to me that Mr. Weasley is not fit for the job. I talked to your teammates, and based on their comments I feel that you are the ideal candidate for the job. I was wondering if you might reconsider my original offer.”

Harry sighed. “I just don’t have the time for it. If all I had to do was show up at practice and make sure everyone kept on task I’d do it. But I don’t have time to set up strategies or work out schedules or anything like that.”

It was McGonagall’s turn to sigh. “If I can convince Mr. Weasley to continue his efforts in that role, would you reconsider?”

“You mean like have us be co-captains?” Harry asked.

“Something like that,” she explained. “He would be in charge of devising and teaching new strategies, basically running the practices. You could be in charge of more administrative duties. You would be in charge of the players, talking to them and giving encouragement, giving the pep-talks, and the one in-charge during an actual match.”

“I guess I could do that,” Harry replied thoughtfully.

“Excellent. I shall arrange a time for the three of us to sit down and talk about it. Afterwards, the two of you can inform the team of the changes,” she told him.

That night was another full moon, which was why Harry could be found sneaking out of the castle and into the tunnel underneath the Whomping Willow. Of course, nobody did catch him since he flew straight into the tunnel in owl form, and he had snuck into the owlery under his invisibility cloak.

Remus was waiting for him in the Shrieking Shack when he poked his head up through the trap door. “Hello Harry,” the werewolf greeted him with a tired smile as he held a hand out to Harry.

Harry took the offered hand and climbed up into the room. “It’s good to see you, Remus,” Harry returned.

“And you as well,” Remus responded. “So how have you been?”

Harry shrugged. “Pretty good overall.”

“Really?” Remus asked. “From what I’ve heard you should be pretty upset.” Harry raised an eyebrow in response. “We heard about Ron and the Quidditch team,” Remus offered by way of explanation as he sank down into a worn, wooden chair. “I should tell you that Molly was none-too-pleased when she heard what Ron had done.”

Harry couldn’t help the smile that the image of an outraged Mrs. Weasley yelling at Ron for what he had done invoked. Remus continued. “She was all set to send him a howler, until Arthur and I managed to convince her that it would probably embarrass you as much as it would Ron. Plus, it wasn’t our argument to settle.”

Harry nodded. “Thank you. I appreciate that and Mrs. Weasley’s intentions as well, though I am certainly glad we avoided the howler. How did you hear about it, anyway?”

“Well,” Remus said with a small smile, “they had to inform Arthur and Molly about Ginny’s fall. When it was explained that you were the one who brought her to safety in the stands, eventually the question of what you were doing in the stands was asked. Needless to say, Molly was quite pleased with you at the time, so when she heard that Ron had kicked you off the team, she was rather…”

“Furious?” Harry offered.

Remus let out a small, weary chuckle. “I think that sums it up quite nicely, yes. So with all of that, care to share how it is you’re doing so well?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve got Ginny,” he said as if that explained everything. “And Neville too. Things are rough with Ron right now, and with Hermione as well, but I’ve been so busy with things that I haven’t had much time to dwell on it. HA is going great. Classes are going extremely well. We’ve got a Hogsmeade weekend coming up…” Harry held his hands out in front of him helplessly. “I don’t know. I guess I do have reasons to be down as well, but I’d rather not be depressed, so I just focus on the more positive things.”

Remus nodded understandingly. “That’s good, Harry. Not many people can do that – focus on the good in life – especially amidst everything that’s going on right now. I’m glad you can find some measure of happiness despite everything.” Harry winced as Remus tensed up suddenly. “I think you better change, Harry,” he said after a moment.

A moment later, Harry was replaced by a black panther. He watched in sorrow as his friend went through the slow and painful transformation into a werewolf. Harry spent the rest of the night playing with Remus and keeping him company.

When he was awakened early the next morning, Harry soon bid Remus goodbye and headed back to the castle. Instead of making his way back to Gryffindor Tower, Harry headed to his office. He figured everyone was used to him being gone by the time they woke up, so him sleeping in the morning after every full moon was bound to arouse suspicion, especially if word ever reached Hermione.

So Harry had the bright idea to make use of the rooms in his trunk. He descended into the trunk and immediately made his way into the bedroom, where he collapsed into the bed. He slept until it was almost time for breakfast, leaving him enough time to shower and get dressed before heading down to the Great Hall.

After sitting through a boring DADA lecture and a frustrating Potions class, Harry met with Ginny the period before lunch to work on her animagus training. He told her about his night with Remus and everything the man had revealed about her mum’s reactions to everything. They also checked their prank map, which they had hung on the wall next to his broom, to see if Malfoy had triggered anything yet. He had yet to be pranked, but he had begun to trigger some of them as the numerous counters on the map clearly indicated. It was only a matter of time before he triggered one of them enough times for the prank to take effect.

Ginny was progressing relatively quickly in her training, not nearly as fast as Harry had, but she hardly expected to master the transformation in a matter of a couple days. She could consistently change both of her hands individually into paws and was now working on changing them both at the same time. After that she would begin changing other parts of her body one at a time, then several at once before finally attempting a full transformation. She was getting noticeably excited as her goal was now seemingly within reach.

The next morning Harry received a note from Professor McGonagall asking him to meet her in her office a half an hour before dinner. That evening Harry arrived at Professor McGonagall’s office a few minutes early. He rapped lightly on the door, and a moment later the door opened to reveal the professor whom he had been intimidated by for his first five years at Hogwarts. She gave him a warm smile and said, “Come on in, Harry. Have a seat and make yourself comfortable.”

“Thank you,” Harry replied as he stepped into the office. There were two chairs set up in front of her desk slanted slightly towards each other so their occupants wouldn’t need to turn or strain to see each other. He lowered himself into the seat on his left. “Is it safe to assume this is about the Quidditch team?”

“I think that would be a fair assumption,” she replied as she sat at her desk. “We’re just waiting on Mr. Weasley.”

Harry nodded his understanding. As if on cue, Ron knocked on the opened door a moment later. “Come in, Mr. Weasley. And please shut the door behind you.” Ron stepped into the room and nudged the door closed with a thud. “Please take a seat.” Ron sent Harry a curious glance as he sank into the open chair. “I’m guessing you’re curious as to why I called you here,” she offered to Ron.

Ron nodded. “Yeah.”

“Given recent events, I thought it appropriate to look into how our Quidditch team is doing and how they are being managed. Several things have been brought to my attention that I felt needed to be resolved. The first and most obvious was your dismissal of Mr. Potter from the team,” she informed him. There was nothing accusing in her voice, but her displeasure at his decision was obvious.

Ron nodded. “I was wrong for kicking Harry off the team. I’ve apologized to him for it.”

“Be that as it may,” McGonagall continued, “your inability to set aside your personal differences for the good of the team is not something we can afford to let happen again. I have spoken to each of the individual members of the team about the events that have transpired over the past several weeks, including how they felt about Mr. Potter’s dismissal, how they felt you were handling the captaincy, and how they felt playing under your leadership.”

Harry watched Ron Professor McGonagall continued to talk. The boy nodded nervously but did not respond verbally.

“In speaking to each team member, I have learned quite a bit. I learned that the team as a whole was not happy with your decision with regards to Mr. Potter. They had even considered refusing to play for you until you reinstated him. It was only Mr. Potter’s own intervention that kept the team from mutiny.”

Harry did his best to school his features as Ron’s gaze shifted onto him. He tried not to pay him any heed and instead focused his attention solely on Professor McGonagall as she continued.

“In watching the match last Saturday, it’s obvious that many members of the team were having troubles. Nathan was noticeably shaken early in the game, leaving Katie and Stephanie at a disadvantage. The timing was off on a lot of their plays, resulting in many mistakes and miscues. Our two beaters did an admiral job in protecting our players, but they struggled even to accomplish that and were unable to put any pressure on the other team. One of the most important duties of the team captain is to lead the team in the match. To give encouragement and direction when it is needed. In all that went wrong during the match, you did not once call a time out or offer up any encouragement or advice to your teammates.”

Harry glanced at Ron to find his gaze had sunken to the floor. His face and ears were red with embarrassment, and he was obviously beginning to see where this meeting was going as his face clearly showed his dejection.

“A captain’s duties also extend outside the field of play. The majority of the team was down after the match despite the victory. With the notable exception of Miss Weasley, they all felt that they had let down their house. It is the captain’s duty to talk to the members of the team to keep their spirits up, to let them know what they did right and give them hope for the future. From the team’s comments it doesn’t appear that you gave any of them any words of encouragement after the match.”

“There is no doubt that you have an extraordinary mind for strategy and game tactics. And your sheer knowledge of the game is quite extensive, but you lack the skills and qualities essential to be a good leader. It has become clear to me in talking with the team that my initial choice for the team’s captain was correct.” She gave Harry a rather pointed look. “I was rather disappointed when Mr. Potter turned down the title last summer, but he has many other duties and responsibilities to attend to this year and has said he has not the time to spend devising game strategies and practice schedules.”

“I talked things over with Mr. Potter earlier this week, and we were able to work out an arrangement that is acceptable to him if you are willing to agree. I want Mr. Potter to have full captaincy of the team. In practices and during game time, he is the one in charge. He will give encouragement and advice, and he will be the one to give the pre- and post-game speeches. He would like you to continue on in your duties as far as devising the game strategies, plays, and formations for the teams. You would likely end up running the majority of most practices, and you would also be responsible for maintaining the schedule and booking the pitch. If you are agreed to these terms, then I will allow you to remain as a co-captain. If you do not agree, then I’m afraid I will have to find a new captain amongst the other team members.”

Harry kept his face forward, though his eyes kept drifting to the redhead beside him. He was looking back and forth between Harry and Professor McGonagall as he attempted to comprehend everything that was just laid out before him. “So I get to make the plays and run the drills and everything?” he asked. “And Harry has to do all the speech giving and things like that?”

McGonagall nodded. “That’s correct.”

“And we’ll be co-captains?” he asked her.

Another nod. “But Mr. Potter will have final say.”

Ron nodded distractedly. He remained silent for another moment as he thought everything over. “I can live with that,” he finally said.

The meeting ended shortly thereafter. Ron and Harry stepped out together. Ron seemed as though he wanted to say something to Harry but didn’t quite have the words. Harry wanted to check the map in his office before dinner, so he left Ron to make his way up to Gryffindor Tower on his own. As soon as Harry strode into his office, he held his hand over the picture and said, “I solemnly swear that I’m up to some serious pranking.”

The map of Hogwarts unfolded before him, and Harry’s eyes quickly scanned over the numerous pranks that had been set up throughout the castle. When his eyes roamed over the doors to the Great Hall a great smirk lit up his face. He had to go find Ginny. Not one to waste any time, he held up his hand and said, “I solemnly swear that I’m up to no good,” causing names with little footprints beside them to pop up throughout the map.

He scanned the map for Ginny’s name wishing there was some way to just pinpoint her exactly without having to search through the map. He realized that’s exactly what the map needed and resolved to look into that when he got a chance. He found her in the Gryffindor Common Room and decided to head up to let her know. They would want to get down to dinner early so as not to miss the show, and there was less than half an hour left until the meal began.

He walked hurriedly up to the seventh floor corridor and made his way to the Fat Lady’s portrait. She let him into the room, and his eyes immediately began scanning the room. It was only a second before they locked onto the long, fiery red hair of his best friend. He strode over to where she was pouring over a textbook at one of the tables. He snuck up behind her and leaned over to whisper in her ear, “Malfoy, Great Hall, dinner time.”

He leaned back to watch her reaction. She had startled at first to his unexpected proximity, and she turned towards him. A moment later her face lit up as his words caught up with her. “What time is it?”

“We’ve got about fifteen minutes ‘til it starts,” he told her. “I don’t know about you, but I want to get there early to get good seats.”

She nodded excitedly. “Let me go throw this stuff upstairs and then we can go.”

“Alright,” he said as she stuffed her books into her bag and rushed up the staircase to her dormitory. Harry leaned against the table and let his gaze wander across the room as he waited. Neville walked into the portrait hole and headed towards him.

“Hey Harry,” he greeted.

“Hi Neville,” Harry answered back. “How’s it going?”

“Pretty good,” he replied. “And with you?”

“Not too shabby,” Harry replied with a secret smile. “I’m just waiting on Ginny right now, then we’re going to head down to the Great Hall for dinner.”

“It’s still a little early for that, isn’t it?” Neville asked.

Harry shrugged. “Doesn’t hurt if we end up a couple minutes early. You’re welcome to join us, if you’d like,” he offered.

Neville nodded agreeably. “Sounds good to me. I’ve got nothing else to do. There’s no use starting on homework when I’d just have to pack it up in five minutes anyway.”

Just then Ginny came bounding back down the stairs and rushed over to them. “Come on,” she demanded excitedly eliciting a chuckle from Harry and a raised eyebrow from Neville.

“What’s got you so excited?” he asked her.

“A wonderful break from OWL studying,” she answered without missing a beat. “The tests are still months away and things are already brutal. I don’t know how you guys managed last year, especially with Umbridge and everything.”

“It’s not so terrible,” Harry said. “So long as you keep up with the assignments in class, the tests won’t be so bad.”

Neville nodded. “I was expecting them to be a lot worse than they were. Not to say they were easy,” he amended as they exited out the portrait hole. “But they’re made out to be much more terrible than they are.”

“Well that’s a relief,” Ginny proclaimed happily. She was practically skipping in her excitement making both boys laugh.

They were the first students to enter the Great Hall. Ginny led them to the seats closest to the double doors, providing them an excellent view for when Malfoy arrived. They chatted a bit as they waited, both Harry and Ginny getting noticeably excited. Neville was quite amused and rather curious as to what was up, but none of his inquiries met with any answers, so he resigned himself to wait and see what happened.

After a couple minutes students started trickling in and the food appeared on the tables. Neville dug right in. Harry and Ginny made an effort to eat, but they were too distracted to do so with their usual gusto. The hall was about half full when it finally happened.

Malfoy walked through the double doors flanked by both Crabbe and Goyle. As he crossed the threshold, the two thugs stopped in their tracks, mouths hanging wide open in dumb shock. They didn’t move, didn’t say a thing as they watched Malfoy continue to saunter into the room, not noticing that he had lost his too lackeys. After getting halfway to his table, Malfoy began to notice that he was receiving quite a bit of attention. This only caused him to smirk to himself and strut his way the rest of the way to the Slytherin table.

Then someone snorted. Another followed. Laughter soon began to break out across the hall just as Draco was reaching the table. He noticed that the members of his house were mostly all staring at him in abject shock. He looked down at himself.

Malfoy’s whole body flushed red in embarrassment for the whole hall to see. He felt at his body and his face registered surprised as he felt the fabric of his robes as if nothing was wrong with them. He tried frantically to cover himself for a moment before he realized the futility of the action. He glared at the students across the hall who were all doubled over in laughter, pointing at him. He turned to the double doors and began walking towards them visibly forcing himself to walk at a casual pace.

That was until someone hollered, “Hey Malfoy! Did you know that you blush ALL over?” to a cacophony of laughter from the hall. Malfoy quickened his pace to a sprint at that and slammed his way past Crabbe and Goyle, who were still standing in the entryway trying to figure out what was happening.

Harry and Ginny, still laughing along with the rest of the hall, turned to give each other a proud smile. The first activated prank had been a huge success. They couldn’t wait for the rest to take effect.

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